Monday, July 30, 2007

Amazing Spider-Man

Amazing Spider-Man was my Go-To book for many years but that stopped a few arcs into the Straczynski run. I’m not into his work at all and I’ve been looking forward to his departure so I could give it another shot. However, with that finally happening, Marvel throws a curve ball.

Amazing Spider-Man will soon be the only ongoing 616 Spider-Man. It’s also now shipping 3 times per month. (616 is GeekSpeak for the original Marvel Universe not the Ultimate Universe) During ComicCon Marvel announced the creative teams, one of which is top notch while the other three just make me scratch my head.

Dan Slott, Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell
This is basically the Civil War art team with Dan Slott writing. Slott is a big-fan of Bronze-Age Marvel. He writes old school, fun storylines and I’d love to see his take on Amazing. Civil War, no matter what you thought of it, had some gorgeous art. That’s the kind of creative team that should be on a Flagship title like Amazing Spider-Man.

The rest of the creative teams rounds out like this…

Marc Guggenheim, Salvador Larrocca and Jason Keith
Guggenheim did a pretty lackluster run on a Wolverine book. So lackluster that I’m not sure if it was Wolverine or Wolverine Origins. I even lettered the books and I can’t recall. Larrocca did some nice art on X-Men back few years ago but his art has morphed into a Greg Land-esque photo-referenced light box look that really bums me out. I don’t know if he thinks this is a direction he should take his work with the current shift towards more “realistic” art, but nothing makes me drop a book quicker than photo-referenced art.

Bob Gale, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning and Jeromy Cox
Bob Gale co-wrote Back to the Future, Jimenez is a solid penciler but still, I don’t know how one can get excited about a Spider-Man book written by the guy who co-wrote Back to the Future. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know if Gale has written anything else for Marvel but I’ve honestly never heard of the guy and I’m follow comics and creators pretty closely.

Zeb Wells, Chris Bachalo, Tim Townshend and Antonio Fabela
The final team is Marvel’s resident cartoony team. (Except when they substitute Scottie Young for Bachalo) I’ve never read a Zeb Wells book I’ve liked. There’s usually a humor angle to his work, but it’s seldom funny. Bachalo does some fun-stuff, but a team like this on Amazing Spider-Man just doesn’t fit.

As I mentioned earlier this is their flagship book. Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr. and Jr., Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen. These are big time names on a big time book. I hate to knock this admirable endeavor Marvel is undertaking, but I take my geekdom seriously… Amazing should have Hall of Fame creators on it. Amazing Spidey is the Yankees. Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle should be wearing that uniform… instead we’ve got the Kansas City Royals wearing the pinstripes.

Stay tuned tomorrow for The New Comic Experiment.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Reviews, Plugs and Mini-Mini-comics

Been a while since my last post but I have been working on stuff to get up here on the ol’ LazyBlog. I’ve been on a real kick of reading old stuff that I lettered and attempted to get through a few trades. One I almost finished and the other I just wound up flipping through after reading like 10 pages or so. The first was Peter David and Lee Weeks’ Incredible Hulk “Tempest Fugit”. The story was fun when Hulk was smashing, but meh when he was plain’ ol’ Bruce. The art by Lee Weeks was just amazing though, man that guy is good. I don’t believe he’s on a regular monthly book right now and I have no idea why. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the ugly green type lettering in the Hulk-in- Bruce’s-mind sequences were not my doing. They were done by production at the request of the editor. If the need for a special balloon was wanted I’d surely have done one a bit more exciting than making the type process green. But why ask the letterer do that when you’ve got a production office full of disgruntled underpaid workers to do it instead?

The book I couldn’t get through was a Black Panther trade by Christopher Priest. The wise cracks by an annoying sidekick through the first issue of the trade were just awful jokes shoehorned in strange places that just took your right out of the story. It also jumped around like crazy through a number of flashbacks and other story threads all of which bored the hell out of me. I’d tell you what volume it was but I don’t care and you shouldn’t either. Ugh.

A co-worker of mine found a couple of tiny Marvel comics somewhere around the office and gave them to me. I’d never seen anything like them and they sure are neat. A tiny bit bigger than a business card but with nice glossy cardstock covers and full-color interiors. As you can see I got a copy of Ultimate Spider-Man #1 and The Incredible Hulk #34 which kicked off Bruce Jones’ famously boring 47 issue run. I remember getting issues of that run in my comp bundles back when I worked in the bullpen and I’d quickly flip through to see if he’d really gone another issue without the Hulk showing up. It was quite an amazing feat, really. I actually reread issue 34 and was reminded how good an issue it was. Amazing art by John Romita Jr. (no surprise there) and a nice throwback to the Hulk TV show with Bruce on the run from whatever havoc his green alter ego left in its wake. But boy did that storyline just run out of steam quicker than Posh Spice in a pie-eating contest. What a shame.

I borrowed the first 2 issues of World War Hulk from a friend and I’m happy to see that Pack is really “Packing” (bad pun) tons of action into the story. Again with top notch penciling by Romita Jr., who is bar-none the best superhero comic artist in the biz, the story just flies by with Hulk smashing every single hero he can get his green mitts on. I’m waiting for Betty to show up at the end to calm the Big Guy down but that answer seems almost too obvious. It’ll be fun to see how it all comes together.

Oh, and Erik Powell finally finished his yearlong hiatus on The Goon. Issue 19 just hit shelves this week, so go pick it up. I’m been pimping that book like crazy since I started this blog.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned, Randall is almost ready to come back.

Lunchtime Sketchbook 2

After I drew this I realized it was a lot like an R. Crumb sketch I saw somewhere...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

DC Announces Web Comic Division

So one of the Big 2 have finally decided to dip their toes into web comic waters with This was announced on July 9th through the New York Times and DC President Paul Levitz. I knew eventually one of the Big 2 were going to test this out, I just didn’t know how they were going to go about it. Like anything new from the major comic publishers it has it’s pros and cons. So let me break down how I feel about it.


1. A major company is looking beyond print comics in order to adapt the medium to fit the way people are now getting their entertainment. All comics will have to be in the 4:3 aspect ratio, which basically means a rectangle that fits on a computer screen so the reader doesn’t have to scroll to read it. This is something that I’ve went back and forth on since I started making web comics. In the end I settled for the traditional comic page size since I’m going to turn these into mini comics anyway. What DC can do with Zuda comics is make them downloadable to an iPod or iPhone, with the 4:3 ratio they’ll scale down nicely.

2. The comics aren’t going to be your traditional DC Universe. The submissions can be anything from superhero to auto-bio, color or black and white.

3. You’ll get paid for producing your web comic. ‘Nuff said.


1. They’re turning it into American Idol. 10 finalists will be chosen and then voted on by the fans. Why? I dunno. Maybe more traffic to the site as a way to find out how many people are interested in Zuda? I don’t know why this doesn’t sit well with me but the line will have editors who evaluate talent on a daily basis. Pick your 10 strips and after they run for a while see what strips are getting the most hits. Readjust the line from there. People doing these web comics will have poured their heart and souls into these strips (at this point for no money) and then they’ll have to run around to message boards pandering for votes. Not to mention the folks who have to sit and watch as their comic loses and their once high hopes dashed. Having an editor turn you down is one thing, having a gaggle of fanboys turn you down NCAA bracket style is another.

2. They mentioned that the line is a way to expand their intellectual property catalog. Comics turning into movies and TV are so common now that it’s mentioned right from the get-go. The comic isn’t the end result anymore, it’s the first step. I don’t know how the contract is going to work but I’m willing to bet the giant corporation is going to win out in the end.

3. You’re fighting for the right to have your comic published online when anyone with a pen and paper and a computer can already do it for free. That’s the beauty of a web comic. Instant publication on your terms.

So you can see I’m mixed on the whole Zuda thing. It’s great to see DC being forward thinking but there are still things that need to be ironed out. I guess this is to be expected as this is the first time a big comic company has done this. I’m hopeful and excited but my inherited lack of trust and/or faith in mainstream comics makes me wonder how this ship will sail. We’ll see.

And the funny thing is. Even though I already publish my work online and through Pixelstrips, being published through Zuda seems rather enticing. Even with the worries I spoke of above.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, July 02, 2007

Decompression... what does it mean?

Decompression. It’s one of those new terms that strikes up a conversation with comic book fans that’ll likely result in a rather heated debate.

First off what the hell does it mean? Wikipedia defines it as this: “Decompression is a stylistic choice in comic book storytelling, characterized by a strong emphasis on visuals or character interaction and usually resulting in slow-moving plots.” It even gives a page as an example, this one being from an issue of Astonishing X-Men #14 by Joss Whedon and John Cassiday. The Wiki entry goes on to mention that it originated in Japanese Manga and recently became popular in the mid to late 90’s through writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Warren Ellis.

I’ve read quite a few articles on the subject and it’s a topic that you can rarely find a straight answer. You often hear that it means stretching out the plot. But how and why is the writer stretching out the plot? Isn’t stretching out the plot really the same as “padding the story”?

I’ve been on message boards discussing the topic where Big Name creators have joined the conversation and said that a page long fight sequence is padding the story. That really struck me as surprising. Check out the aforementioned X-Men page. Can using 5 panels to show Wolverine say “Good morning” to his fellow X-Men not be padding while at the same time a 5-panel fight sequence is padding?

I just don’t get it. This is where I get hung up. And when I try to boil down why I disagree with this it comes back to what I want out of a comic book. A mixture of action and story.

Sure decompression is a stylistic choice, but it’s a choice that I wish wasn’t as popular as it’s become. At times a decompressed story can be a fun read but when it’s not working, decompression is just flat-out unreadable. So much so that it makes me feel like I just wasted my money.

Going back to where decompression started there is something that basically goes hand in hand with it. Widescreen panels. The cinematic approach to comic book storytelling. Our handy X-Men page above shows this technique as clear as day. A handful of other artists who are going this route are Bryan Hitch (Ultimates, The Authority) and Alex Maleev (Daredevil). Both of which are partners of Warren Ellis and Brian Bendis. Taking this cinematic approach obviously makes the artist and writer think in terms of cinema. 24 frames per second. The “time between the notes on a piece of music” is how an uber-popular writer explained decompression to me. An interesting concept but is this why people buy comics? For the time between the notes? Don’t people want the crescendo and not the silence between?

Hulk smashing a car on top of Ben Grimm’s head is a big note I don’t want to miss. I’m not really interested in the notes between the cars smashing into Grimm’s rocky dome.

Once again, if we use that X-Men page as an example you’ve got 2 silent panels capturing those “moments between the notes”. All right, sure. But are people really interested in an entire page of Wolverine sitting in a breakfast nook? There must be as Astonishing X-Men is one of the most popular books on the stands, but that isn’t for me.
Now all that smashing and action isn’t always great for story development but there is room for both. It’s the juggling of those 2 essential elements that make me love comics. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko packed Spider-Man’s origin into a space smaller than today’s standard comic book format of 22 pages. I believe it’s something like 15 pages? (if anyone out there has that info handy, let me know). Take today’s retelling of Spidey’s origin in Ultimate Spider-Man (by Bendis) and we got that story spread out through 5 issues. I enjoyed the story, but I do remember thinking that I can’t believe they stretched this out to 5 issues. And that was way before I’d heard of decompressed storytelling.

What will this latest storytelling trend lead to in the future? Is decompressed storytelling to today’s comic culture what the dark, gritty realism of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns was to the 1980’s comic culture? We got some real crappy comics out of that movement but we also got some great one’s like “Kraven’s Last Hunt” by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck. The problem is, can we really compare today’s comics like Ultimate Spider-Man and The Authority to Watchmen and Dark Knight?

Hmm. I don’t think so.

But we can sit back and watch the ride. Or seek out some comics with Batman knocking some thugs teeth out. Or go with the Fantastic Four eating dinner at a diner for 16 pages. The choice is yours. The shelves are full of comics these days.

Thanks for reading.